SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Talks Rockets, Dragon And Mars At SXSW
March 10, 2013

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Talks Rockets, Dragon And Mars At SXSW

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The future of the US space program depends upon the development and use of booster rockets that can be used more than once, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told attendees of the annual South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) event on Saturday (Mar 9).

Musk, a keynote speaker at the Austin, Texas event, demonstrated his company´s first foray into such a rocket by showing a video of their experimental Grasshopper booster. The clip showed the 10-story-tall rocket lift off and hover briefly before reversing course, putting its landing gear down and returning intact to the launch pad — all to the tune of the Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire" (missing in the linked Grasshopper video).

During his SXSW Q&A session, Musk said the most recent test — which took place Friday — was not the first time Grasshopper had become airborne, but it was the most ambitious test of the rocket to date. The SpaceX CEO added reusable rocket technology could make space travel 100-times less expensive, and the cost of things like fuel and oxygen make up just one percent of a launch´s overall cost.

Musk also discussed the thruster issues that recently delayed the rendezvous between SpaceX´s Dragon capsule and the International Space Station (ISS). He called the first few minutes following the March 1 liftoff “extremely nerve-wracking” due to concerns a rocket failure could have resulted in the destruction of the launch pad, reported Mashable's Lance Ulanoff.

The initial blast-off was without issue, Musk said, but moments later three of the vehicle´s four oxidizer tanks failed to pressurize. As a result, the unmanned capsule´s solar panels were unable to deploy, meaning the Dragon was essentially just drifting through space. Despite limited communications, SpaceX was able to devise a solution and ultimately upload new software designed to "pressure slam the three oxidizer tanks that were refusing to pressurize."

With the new software in place, "the system built pressure upstream, then released the pressure and slammed the valve," explained Musk. "It gave the spacecraft the equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver," allowing the solar arrays to deploy and slowing the rotation of Dragon.He noted after the "slam" the pods started coming back online.

Ultimately, the space vehicle was able to dock with the ISS on the morning of March 3.

Musk also emphasized his desire to see mankind make it to Mars sometime during his lifetime. In fact, the SpaceX CEO said if an astronaut wasn´t able to make the journey before he died, it would be the biggest disappointment of his life — and even said he would consider traveling there himself.

"I'd like to die on Mars,” Musk said during the keynote, “just not on impact.”